Sunday, April 30, 2017

Coosawattee Bluffs

I recently participated in the annual Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage held by the Georgia Botanical Society. This was the 48th annual such event for the Society, and the event moves around the state. For the first time ever, the event was held just outside of Georgia, in Chattanooga. Many of the field trips were still held in Georgia, in the Ridge and Valley region.

Yellow trillium (Trillium luteum)
The event has lots of choices and for my Friday field trip, I chose one called “Coosawattee Bluffs” that was on private property near Carter’s Lake in Murray County. The property includes some bluffs that overlook the Coosawattee River, hence the name.

The property owners give the Botanical Society permission about once a year to conduct a field trip on this botanically rich property, so I knew that this field trip would be the only chance this year to visit. This is calcareous habitat with limestone present so the plants we expect to find would be those that enjoy those conditions.

Tradescantia subaspera
We walked into the property on an old road and began to see “cool stuff” right away: yellow trillium (Trillium luteum), purple spiderwort (Tradescantia subaspera, perhaps), and the annual yellow fumewort (Corydalis flavula). The yellow trillium was duly sniffed for fragrance because it is wonderful. On the way back, goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) was spotted in the area too (because really, you have to look on the way in and on the way out).  

Our next stop was at a rock outcrop that was decorated with shooting stars (Dodecatheon meadia) and gloriously purple spiderwort. People stood in line to take a picture of the shooting stars! As we tiptoed our way through the finely textured forkleaf toothwort (Cardamine dissecta), we found blooming Jacob’s ladder (Polemonium reptans) and trailing trillium (Trillium decumbens). Tearing our eyes (and cameras) away from the rich ground layer, we realized we were among blooming bladdernut (Staphylea trifolia) and yellow buckeye (Aesculus flava).

Cardamine dissecta
Polemonium reptans

Bladdernut (Staphylea trifolia)
Yellow buckeye (Aesculus flava)

From here we proceeded into a moist cove area that was carpeted with mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum), Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica), Dutchman’s britches (Dicentra cucullaria), Southern nodding trillium (Trillium rugelii), deciduous ginger (Asarum reflexum), green dragon (Arisaema dracontium), great Indian plantain (Arnoglossum reniforme, perhaps), largeleaf waterleaf (Hydrophyllum macrophyllum) and more.

Dodecatheon meadia
Mertensia virginica

We completed our trek with a visit to the bluffs and watched some very large fish moving through it. As we looked down, we spied several clumps of blooming fernleaf phacelia (Phacelia bipinnatifida). The area around the bluffs is under invasive plant management by the owner and large amounts of privet had been recently removed. Native perennials were recovering nicely.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Tiny Spring Anemones

Small white wildflowers abound in spring. It can take careful examination of the plant’s parts sometimes to differentiate them: number of petals, leaves, seed pods – these are all helpful things. For me, it’s worth doing. I’d rather know what I’m actually seeing than just call it a white flower. This year I realized that I had 3 similar species in my yard – all of them with the word ‘anemone’ as part of the common name and all in the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae).

Rue anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides)
The most common of the three is called rue anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides). It has a single tier of leaves that are faintly bluish, sometimes tinged with pale burgundy with softly rounded edges.

The parts that we might consider the petals are actually sepals and there can be 5-10 of them; they surround a cluster of stamens and pistils. The sepals are most often white but can be pale pink. The plant is sparse in shaded woodlands but gets more robust in good light, up to 8 inches tall. There may be 1-5 flowers in a terminal cluster.

Rue anemone is native mostly to north Georgia, but there are some reported populations in the upper Coastal Plain. It is easily transplanted and happy to grow in part-shade gardens with good soil. It blooms for 3-6 weeks in the spring.

Pinkish coloration on rue anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides)

The second anemone is called false rue anemone (Enemion biternatum). It has no reported presence in Georgia but is considered likely to be found. The population that I have was given to me by a friend. The slightly rounded foliage of this plant is similar to rue anemone, with rounded edges but more deeply divided lobes. According to this reference, false rue anemone will only ever have 5 sepals. In addition, it can be a taller plant than rue anemone. Both of the following pictures are from the same plant in my yard, several weeks apart.

Enemion biternatum
Enemion biternatum, notice the
leaves behind the flowers

Enemion biternatum seed capsule

If you can see the plant after flowering, the appearance of the fruit is markedly different. False rue anemone has beaked “follicles” that contain 2 or more seeds while rue anemone has beaked achenes (which is a single seed).

One source says that false rue anemone can get up to one foot tall, but that is not true in my garden. This is the earliest of the 3 to bloom for me. The first flower was on March 1 and it is still flowering 6 weeks later.

The third white anemone is called wood anemone (Anemone quinquefolia). Distribution in Georgia is all in the Piedmont and mountain regions, not in the Coastal Plain. The leaf is a compound leaf with 5 leaflets or 3 leaflets where the two side leaflets are deeply cut so as to resemble 5. The leaflets are coarsely serrated with lobes that taper to relatively noticeable points, a characteristic which is different from the other two plants.

Anemone quinquefolia
Anemone quinquefolia

Wood anemone’s flowers have 5 or more of the petal-like sepals. There are no leaves behind the sepals, the flower rises up on a leafless petiole; there might be hairs on the stems and the fruits. Often the population of wood anemone might have more plants with leaves than flowers. That is definitely true in my yard. Somehow I now have 4-5 separate populations of them and only one flower total.

I hope you get a chance to notice one of these tiny anemones in the spring. Take good pictures and you should be able to figure it out when you get home.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Cloudland Canyon State Park

Cloudland Canyon State Park is a 3,485-acre park on the western edge of Lookout Mountain in Dade County. It has deep canyons, sandstone cliffs, caves, waterfalls, beautiful creeks and abundant spring wildflowers. I have heard about it for many years as a wildflower hotspot, but this was my first visit to the park. It certainly lived up to its reputation.

Hemlock Falls, as view through a group of hemlocks
Cloudland Canyon became a state park in 1939 and has expanded several times from its original size of 1,924 acres. Its remote location in the furthest northwest county in Georgia was once only accessible from other states! The construction of Highway 136 finally made it possible to reach it from Georgia. The canyon was formed by the waters of Daniel and Bear Creeks which later converge to form Sitton Gulch Creek. Walks along these boulder-strewn, cascading creeks are quite scenic.

Cutleaf toothwort (Cardamine concatenata)
Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia)

Southern red trillium (Trillium sulcatum)

Yellowroot at waters edge (Xanthorhiza simplicissima)
We took the West Rim Loop Trail for a short distance until it intersected with the Waterfall Trail and then descended the 600 steps and joined up with Sitton’s Gulch Trail. The Waterfall Trail was indeed beautiful but strenuous. We passed huge rock cliffs and outcrops, including one that was dripping with water. Shrubs that we saw included southern bush-honeysuckle (Diervilla rivularis), mapleleaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium), mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia), and yellowroot (Xanthorhiza simplicissima). Spring ephemerals included sharp-lobed hepatica (Hepatica nobilis var. acuta), rue anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides), saxifrage (Saxifraga virginiensis), solomon’s plume (Maianthemum racemosum), yellow mandarin (Prosartes maculata), several species of violets, early meadow-rue (Thalictrum dioicum), foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia), cutleaf toothwort (Cardamine concatenata), Southern red trillium (Trillium sulcatum), star chickweed (Stellaria pubera), and more.

Spring beauty (Claytonia)
Northern maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum)

Wild oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia)
As we joined Sitton’s Gulch Trail, a spring beauty with wide leaves was spotted and discussed. While it appeared to be Claytonia caroliniana, more research seems to be required. It was very happy there. Huge slopes to our left were so crowded with boulders that plants were not even growing among them in places. The creek on our right was loudly rushing through its own collection of boulders. Eventually we came to areas rich with Christmas fern punctuated with trilliums (T. cuneatum and T. sulcatum), jacks (Arisaema triphyllum), foamflower, northern maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum), yellow mandarin, and slender toothwort (Cardamine angustata). We found shrubs like gooseberry (Ribes cynosbati), fragrant sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus), and I was very excited to see oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) in the wild!

Forkleaf toothwort (Cardamine dissecta)
Larkspur (Delphinium tricorne)

Trout lily (Erythronium americanum)
Woodland stonecrop (Sedum ternatum)

Sitton’s Gulch Trail passes through some rather flat areas towards the end. We found dwarf crested iris (Iris cristata), fernleaf phacelia (Phacelia bipinnatifida), woodland stonecrop (Sedum ternatum), trailing trillium (T. decumbens), woodland phlox (Phlox divaricata), spotted geranium (Geranium maculatum), two kinds of bellwort (Uvularia), and huge patches of Canadian white violet (Viola canadensis). A couple of special plants that we found included a few left over blooms on American trout lily (Erythronium americanum) and a few early blooms of dwarf larkspur (Delphinium tricorne). We found our third toothwort, “forkleaf” toothwort (Cardamine dissecta) in small patches.

It's a great place to see some of our best spring wildflowers and I look forward to going back again one day.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Violets Are Complicated

Last weekend I attended a violet workshop and hike with the Georgia Botanical Society at Cloudland Canyon State Park. Dr. Harvey Ballard of Ohio University led the workshop and then accompanied us on a hike through the park to find as many of the 11 known species of violets that have been found there in the past. We found most of them and something new too.

Violets are in the Violaceae family, and two genera in that family are represented in Georgia and also in Cloudland Canyon: Viola and Cubelium (formerly Hybanthus).  In general, the southern Appalachian area (like Cloudland) has about 40% of the US violets. Violets do hybridize, so that can make identification a little hard sometimes. Most violet species can make two types of flowers: chasmogamous flowers which are showy and attract insects and cleistogamous flowers which are closed to insects (and obviously not showy). In Georgia, one species that does not make cleistogamous flowers is bird’s foot violet (Viola pedata).

Viola blanda with reddish petiole
Viola canadensis with noticeable stem;
it was abundant on Sitton's Gulch Trail

Identification of violets involves several characteristics. A particular Viola species may be “stemmed” or “stemless.” If the flower grows from a stem, then it is stemmed. If it appears to grow directly from the ground, it is stemless. An example of a stemmed white violet in Georgia is Viola canadensis. Examples of stemless violets in Georgia include the sweet white violet (Viola blanda) and bird’s foot violet (Viola pedata).

Viola eriocarpa has unlobed leaves
Viola tripartita has lobed leaves

Other characteristics include hairs on the leaves, shape of the leaves, hairs (or beards) on the petals, and even the look of the seeds and their capsules. Dr. Ballard says that for best identification, one would consider the flowers, foliage, and fruit from the same plant across the seasons.

For our hike, we started with a list of 11 likely species that we would find: Viola blanda, V. canadensis, V. eriocarpa, V. hastata, V. hirsutula, V. palmata, V. pedata, V. rostrata, V. sororia, and V. tripartita, as well as the green violet, Cubelium concolor. We hiked from the West Rim Trail to Cherokee Falls to Hemlock Falls and finished at the end of Sitton’s Gulch Trail. We found 9 of our target species, several hybrids in the Viola sororia group (the common violet) and one species that we didn’t have on our list, Viola affinis.

Viola hastata has a nice pattern on the leaves
The green violet (Cubelium concolor)

We enjoyed our educational experience with Dr. Ballard. We learned that what many people consider to be a simple little flower is much more complex than we might have thought. The ability of violets to hybridize within related groups creates possibilities beyond the defined set. It was a relief to see Dr. Ballard get just as vexed with a particular plant as I might have done. Violets aren’t simple, they’re complicated!

Common violet (Viola sororia)
Viola sororia with odd color form

Of course, we saw many other beautiful flowers and I will package up pictures of those for next week’s blog. This was my first visit to this beautiful park; it is a very large park (3485 acres) so there is clearly a lot more to explore in the future.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Before Us

It’s not uncommon to hear someone say that something in their yard, usually in a natural area, must be native because it was there when they got there. Often they are speaking of privet bushes, wild honeysuckle vines, or some other plant that came in via bird poop (face it, that’s how a lot of stuff gets there).

In my area, I believe it is likely that 99% of what we see is second growth (even for some of the large trees we see), and that the land was highly disturbed by humans over the last 500 years, largely for agricultural reasons. Georgia’s oak-hickory forests in the Piedmont were cleared to grow food for families and crops to sell. There weren’t nearly as many loblolly pine trees as we have today, by the way.

When we got to this house 13 years ago, I was excited to discover what might be here. One of the first plants I noticed was an elderberry (Sambucus nigra ssp. canadensis) in the backyard; it was probably brought in by birds. There was a small amount of privet (Ligustrum sinense) and a fair amount of Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica). These non-native plants were brought here by birds too (you get the good and the bad when it comes to birds).

Trillium cuneatum in the middle of the woods at my house

I also saw a sweet Betsy trillium (Trillium cuneatum) on that first walk around the property. The next year I think that I saw two. Over the years, I learned that if I didn’t protect them, the deer would eat them. While a deer meal is not fatal to a trillium, the plant will take in less energy and grow smaller over time; of course, reproduction by seed is less likely too. I’ve been careful to spray or cage them and “new” ones are popping up now. They might have been there all along, dormant, saving their energy.

A trillium seedling on the wooded edge overlooking the stream

I do think that trilliums are a good indication of plants that were probably here before us. Their seeds are dispersed by ants so they don’t move very fast from one place to another (unless soil is relocated). From seed to blooming plant takes a long time; they are visible as a single leaf after 2 years of growth and may take 5 years to get 3 leaves. Each time that I see a small 3-leaved plant, I think “Wow, look how far you’ve come to get all 3 leaves!” It takes at least 7 years before it is mature enough to bloom. 

If you have plants that were there before you, consider carefully how they may have gotten there. Plants may or may not be native.  You might have to play detective to figure it out.